The next time you drive through downtown Fort Lauderdale, don’t be surprised if you see more solar panels on buildings.
The Sun Sentinel has reported that three buildings already have solar awnings, thanks to a Community Redevelopment Agency program that offers grants for beautification and other improvements in economically challenged areas.
U.S. Solar Institute first installed the panels on its building last year. Northwest Gardens apartments added them on a clubhouse this year, and auto shop ABS Exotic Repair just finished its installation.
Each group spent roughly $16,000 on their awnings, with some costs reimbursed as part of their larger beautification projects. The agency pays up to $7,500 in the city’s northwest community redevelopment area and up to $20,000 around Sistrunk Blvd. for approved façade improvements, officials said.
The solar panels help cut energy costs for buildings, slashing as much as half the cost of electric bills, said Ray Johnson, president of U.S. Solar Institute, which both uses and installs the panels.
“We hope to do one project a month,” said Johnson. “This program makes it easier to go solar.”
Solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of energy supplied in the Sunshine State for several reasons. For starters, Florida is one of the few states that lacks a policy mandating specific renewable energy goals. Plus, many consumers see solar as too expensive — a perception that often neglects the reality that the price of solar panels has dropped about 75 percent in the past few years, experts said.
“It would have cost at least twice as much to install these awnings four years ago,” said Johnson.
Angela Andreola, owner of ABS Exotic Repair, said she chose to install an awning to cut heat in her auto shop and selected a solar awning to generate some of her own electricity needs.
“My goal down the road is to produce more energy than I take. Why not try to be green as much as you can?,” asked Andreola, who also seeks out parts from old Mercedes and other cars for her shop to help cut refuse at landfills.
Johnson said the solar awnings take about three days to install, last 20 to 30 years and are designed to withstand hurricane-force winds up to 170 miles per hour.
Each solar awning can produce up to 4,000 kilowatts per hour. Any excess energy not used by the building can be sold to Florida Power & Light, and the state also offers a tax credit of one cent per kilowatt hour for excess production.
The installation costs also are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit after other incentives, said Johnson.
Other cities are interested in Fort Lauderdale’s pioneering efforts in solar energy.
“We would definitely be up for the possibility of solar awnings if a property owner came to us and asked for it” as part of a property improvement program for blighted areas, said Laura LaLiberte, an architect with Hollywood’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Meanwhile, Broward County is developing a solar program through a $646,367 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s $12 million SunShot Initiative, officials said. The money is to be used to jump-start solar expansion by streamlining the process for applications, permits and installation. Fourteen cities are partnering with Broward on the program, including Fort Lauderdale, Sunrise and Tamarac and that’s great for business.